- Cook Islands
Issues in the Cook Islands during the period under review highlight controversial government decisions as well as some notable judicial and parliamentary amendments. Government indifference to voter concerns was reflected in conflicts at Aitutaki and Manihiki airports, a drawn out debate over an indoor stadium for the country, the sudden discontinuation of the vaka (district) council, unfair cost-of-living adjustments (COLA), and even a challenge from the traditional leadership in the House of Ariki. This review underlines the growing disconnect between the Cook Islands government and Cook Islanders, and the marginalization of Cook Islands Māori and their paramount chiefs.
The loss of one of the greatest sons of the Cook Islands was a sad event for all Cook Islanders. Dr Thomas Robert Alexander Harries Davis KBE (1917–2007), former prime minister of the Cook Islands and a United States Apollo Space Program scientist, passed away on 23 July 2007 (CIN, 24 July 2007, 1, 5). He was a well-known medical doctor, scientist, statesman, author, voyager, and Pacific politician, who played a major role in the formation of the East-West Center's Pacific Islands Development Program in Hawai'i (CIN, 28 July 2007, 5). Hundreds attended his state funeral on 27 July at the Are Kari Oi Nui (CIN, 30 July 2007, 1).
Landowners of two outer-island airports were dissatisfied with the government. At one point Manihiki Airport landowners, angry about lease terms, initiated a forced airport closure by spreading debris over the runway to render it unusable (CIN, 5 July 2007, 1). They later agreed to a new lease arrangement for sixty acres of land at an estimated value of NZ$200 per acre (CIN, 1 Feb 2008, 1). (One NZ dollar was the equivalent of US$.69 as of August 2008.) Despite the agreement, a flight to Manihiki was turned back by some disgruntled Manihiki airport landowners (CIN, 14 May 2008, 1). A police patrol boat was required to help keep the peace (CIN, 16 May 2008, 1).
Conflict at the Aitutaki airport focused on the desire of local residents to keep the Sabbath holy (CIN, 12 June 2008, 1). About 300 protestors strongly, yet peacefully, expressed their displeasure at government-sponsored efforts to land planes on the island on Sundays (CIN, 23 June 2008, 1). The peaceful demonstration was in contrast to previous occasions when debris was spread on the runway. In recognition of continuing high emotions, the government agreed to a six-month trial period, although expressions of resistance to Sunday [End Page 145] landings continue (CIH, 28 June 2008, 2).
The courts were busy this year beginning with what is believed to be the first successful defamation case in the Cook Islands. The case was successfully argued by lawyer Charles Little for William Framhein against property developer Tim Tepaki (CIN, 2 July 2007, 1). The judge awarded NZ$90,000 to Framhein. Prominent businessman Richard Barton was convicted on five charges of willfully filing false income tax returns and fined (CIN, 10 Nov 2007, 1). The American owners of the South Pacific School of Medicine indicated that they plan to take the government to court for reneging on a contract to open a school in the Cook Islands (CIN, 12 June 2008, 1). Meanwhile, Vai Peua, the member of Parliament for Pukapuka Island, criticized the Cook Islands High Court and Justice System for sending criminals to the outer islands to serve out their sentences. He also lashed out at the police for failing to monitor a criminal who shot three people on his island (CIN, 31 July 2007, 1).
The tourism industry faced both challenges and opportunities. Cook Islands Tourism Corporation chief executive Chris Wong resigned after pressure from various sectors of the public for alleged financial discrepancies (CIN, 28 July 2007, 1). John Dean was selected to succeed Wong (CIN, 20 Feb 2008, 1) and now faces several major challenges in maintaining tourism as the country's major industry. The Asian Development Bank outlook highlighted the vulnerability of the tourism industry in the Cook Islands, with its inadequate and aging infrastructure. Aggressive approaches by some local operators proved counterproductive. The Rarotonga Beach Resort...